Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Dec/11

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Why are you a conservative?

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This is addressed to people who consider themselves fundamentally conservative, and not libertarian, and, also reject the supernatural. By this, I mean that if you do support libertarian policies (I often do) it is not necessarily because you are at the root someone who is motivated by liberty as the summum bonum. By rejecting the supernatural I mean that you don’t accede to the plausibility of gods, spirits, etc.

Sometimes the answer can be somewhat vague and general. For example, by conservatism, as I implied below, is rooted in the social dependence of human flourishing. This necessarily entails that individual freedom is not the ultimate ends, and means that I am opening to diverging from libertarian logic in many specific cases. Or, more precisely, in the case of the United States I think that this nation-state is a good thing, that it has legitimacy, and that it’s coherency as a nation-state should be defended as a long term project. It’s not a mere convenience for the execution of legal prescriptions.

I throw the question out there because I’m wondering how people will take the ideas I’m going to present at the Moving Secularism Forward conference this March.

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32 comments

  • Dr. Jingo · December 15, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Why am I a Conservative?

    -I believe that truth is objective and absolute.

    -I believe that The State cannot significantly improve the lives of its citizens beyond basic utilities and common defense.

    -I believe that while corporations don’t always act in the best ways, their motive(profit) is open and simple.

    -I believe that there is nothing wrong with somebody profiting for doing good.

    -I believe that markets are unknowable and nobody has, or can have more than the vaguest notion of what goes on in a market at even the smallest of scales.

    -I believe in the individual, and that the individual knows what he wants more than anybody else can.

    -I believe that an individual person is generally a rational being, but in a collective, this is destroyed, becoming a mindless herd.

  • Nandalal Rasiah · December 15, 2011 at 12:34 am

    moving from Reason-style libertarian orientation to a ideological space where it’s okay to question and depart from that flavor of dogma (especially immigration) mostly happened because of how easily I am annoyed by broken records (and the only professorial admonishment I found worthy of remembering: don’t exchange one set of facts for another.) Perhaps when this ideological space becomes dogmatic I’ll move on but, as early as I can recall there were community norms (with which I disagreed) and to violate them risked exclusion from the community and since this space isn’t much of a community I don’t feel the same pressure to walk a prevaricating line between indulging instinctual skepticism and reaping the benefits of an ideologically simpatico support network.

  • Matt · December 15, 2011 at 1:27 am

    For me it’s trying to figure out how relieve the tension between 3 beliefs.

    1. Government is not good at correcting social ills, and often does more harm than good (libertarian).
    2. Most people do need some protection from themselves, and their worst instincts. (Paternalistic)
    3. All religion is obviously false, and belief in the metaphysical is epistemologically suspect. (Secularism)

    Other societies have relived this tension with more emphasis on shared culture and homogeneity, and coercive force of a smaller social group. Weather a diverse multi-cultural secular society can resolve these tensions is unclear. However, working through these issues makes me uncomfortable with the libertarian label.

  • Susan · December 15, 2011 at 1:47 am

    What a very interesting question. My first reaction is that a disposition toward conservatism has as much to do with temperament and the kind of world view that’s achieved early in life on a gut level rather than through ratiocination and learning. If you define a liberal as someone who thinks that every human being has the potential to be smart, nice, kind, and civilized, then I’ve been a conservative since I was out of diapers. Thought, learning, and experience just reinforced my conservatism. (Though, like, Razib, I have always agreed with some libertarian positions.) And I’m secular by upbringing, which may be unusual for someone of my generation. Or anyone’s.

  • RandyB · December 15, 2011 at 3:24 am

    I don’t know if I qualify as “fundamentally” conservative, but I believe…

    1. Democracy is the best form of government, except the others
    2. But its weakness is the propensity to expand the scope of government, as this is how politicians get votes
    3. Therefore, every issue should start with the question “is this a legitimate expansion of the scope of government”?

    I think far too many citizens (and many non-citizens) are claiming they’re owed debts from other citizens, due to historical legacies and using government as their collection agent.

  • Marco · December 15, 2011 at 6:09 am

    It’s probably because I have a deep distrust of people who think they know how to “fix” society. Not that there aren’t problems in need of fixing, but we often dig ourselves in deeper with grand government projects to solve everything; “let’s fix health care!”

    To be honest, the negative side of this is that I can imagine myself, in a past era, taking a position that I would now reject as wrong. “Armed rebellion against King George? What a ridiculous idea!” Or I can see myself as a man of 1850 thinking that the abolitionists were much too radical. I don’t know that I would have taken those positions, but the conservative temperament suggests that I might.

    An inclination to be left alone could push me toward libertarianism, but in practice there are too many nutty ideas under that banner to have me follow it.

  • LL · December 15, 2011 at 7:29 am

    I generally agree with libertarian principles, but not as an end unto itself. I believe maximizing personal liberty is an excellent framework on which talent and trade can flourish. But there are many cognitive biases that affect how people view the world and take decisions. Magical thinking, addiction – these are all things that alter discernment.

    One can not simply hope people will sustain the framework of liberty. It has to be constantly maintained with minimal interference.

    I also agree with Heinlein’s view,

    —————–
    Democracy can’t work. Mathematicians, peasants, and animals, that’s all there is—so democracy, a theory based on the assumption that mathematicians and peasants are equal, can never work. Wisdom is not additive; its maximum is that of the wisest man in a given group.
    “But a democratic form of government is okay, as long as it doesn’t work. Any social organization does well enough if it isn’t rigid. The framework doesn’t matter as long as there is enough looseness to permit that one man in a multitude to display his genius. Most so-called social scientists seem to think that organization is everything. It is almost nothing—except when it is a straitjacket. It is the incidence of heroes that counts, not the pattern of zeros.”
    He added, “Your country has a system free enough to let its heroes work at their trade. It should last a long time—unless its looseness is destroyed from inside.”
    —————–

  • Chris · December 15, 2011 at 8:10 am

    Two books you might say summarize my perspective are “From Bauhaus to Our House” by Tom Wolfe and “Dependent Rational Animals” by Alisdair MacIntyre.

    MacIntyre argues from linguistics (I think you could from affective neuroscience, too) that our rationality is rooted in animality. Also, like you, Razib, he argues for social dependence of the independent moral agent.

    Wolfe demonstrates clearly, to my mind–perhaps more with his entire career than with just the one book–that the Left is associated with aesthetic failure.

    While aesthetics could be seen as a flim-flam subject, I see it as a bellweather specifically because it has no rational basis outside our animalistic reactions. If you are trying to get at human flourishing, the ideologies or political perspectives that result in a depraved aesthetic seem to me likely to be wrongheaded.

    How do you get from there to conservatism rather than libertarianism? Frankly, I am frequently in favor of libertarian policies, but not, as you specified, because liberty per se is the summum bonum.

    MacIntyre’s views on social dependence are strongly anti-libertarian, but some of his specifics are so wacky that I can’t accept his version of virtue ethics whole hog. I think it has a lot to recommend it, though.

  • Dr Duck · December 15, 2011 at 10:28 am

    As Matt Ridley puts it in the Rational Optimist, generally speaking, the left is afraid of economic progress, the right is afraid of social progress, and the greens are afraid of technological progress.

    I suppose I would embrace progress because it is what is, in my view, constituituve of the human condition.

    A truly rationalist approach would imply that all ideological positions are vulnerable to evidence and reason.

    So, I am not in favor of conservative positions on issues like gay marriage. I generally favor a secular right approach, want to see human freedom and opportunity maximised, and think that enlightnment sensibities and values should be privilaged.

  • jb · December 15, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Hmmm…, a surprisingly hard question! Not least because I’m not really certain I count as “fundamentally” conservative. I do hold a fair number of liberal positions — for example I’m strongly pro-choice, and I think a single-payer health care system might possibly be a good idea. And when I was younger I did tend to believe — basically because I had been so often told — that people were perfectible.

    I guess the simplest answer is that at a very fundamental level I’m a conservative because I believe in natural selection. On a social level that means going with what works, rewarding success and penalizing failure. My problem with liberalism is that its fundamental approach to the world is moral rather than practical, and as a result it often ends up rewarding and promoting failure.

    This just seems fundamentally wrong to me. It seems wrong to try to reduce poverty by subsidizing poverty. It seems wrong to force drastic changes on society without knowing what you are doing. And you never know what you are doing! Change should be incremental, and it needs to justify itself by actually working.

    The magic of natural selection is that you don’t need to understand what is going on at a deeper level. If you reward success and penalize failure, problems have a tendency to fix themselves! As with all rules there will be exceptions, but I guess what makes me a conservative is that I think doing what works takes priority over doing what’s right.

  • Hortensio · December 15, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    Hmm. I’d have to say that it’s because we’ve achieved an unprecedented level of prosperity, order, _and_ freedom. (Since we’re all using computers here, I’m fairly sure Napoleon, with his lack of indoor plumbing, should be considered poor by our standards.) I figure that we’ve been doing something right, and I would rather not mess it up by trying either failed or untested ideas.

  • Humean · December 15, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    It’s refreshing to learn that a conservative is even invited to speak at a secular conference. As I see it, you have two points to prove:

    1 – If not god, then where do atheists get their values from? I wouldn’t spend too long with terms such as “human flourishing” or wellbeing, which I find vague and confusing. I’d go straight to the heart of the matter and present the Humean emotion-driven model of human motivation i.e. “reason is … the slave of the passions”. I’d back it up with the increasing amount of neuroscience and psychology that reaffirm this model e.g. Haidt, Damasio, etc.

    Of course this model is counter-intuitive to your average atheist, so you need to labour the point. I’d make a crystal clear distinction between beliefs and values, so they don’t think you’re advocating emotional beliefs.

    The Humean model is starting to break through to mainstream awareness e.g. see Julia Galef’s recent talk The Straw Vulcan:
    http://measureofdoubt.com/2011/11/26/the-straw-vulcan-hollywoods-illogical-approach-to-logical-decisionmaking/

    2 – So, given that our values come from our emotions, the next step is to prove that a conservative interpretation of humanism is actually desired by many or most people. All atheists whether liberal, conservative, or libertarian, have to argue that their interpretation/balance of desire satisfaction maximises happiness. So you’d have to cite evidence that conservative values are actually desired by many people e.g. ethnocentrism/kin-preference is fairly easy to prove, but I’m not sure about proving other values such as small/local government, capitalism v. socialism, protectionist v. free trade, etc.

    A final point is to question whether the word “conservative” is the best way to describe ourselves. Perhaps something like “enlightened tribalism” is more appropriate.

    Good luck.

  • Walenty Lisek · December 15, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    I am fundamentally conservative because I agree with Sowell’s / Pinker’s “constrained” or “tragic” vision of the world.

  • Eric · December 16, 2011 at 12:16 am

    JB: “…doing what works takes priority over doing what’s right.”

    I agree 100%. It comes down to epistemology.

    Being conservative is being objective and what is to the benefit of the whole. To many it coincides with religion, tradition, etc…and if you were to survey people you would most likely see a correlation between conservatism and religion. Leaders of this country should be driven by results and not driven by emotion or theory (many politicans have recently fallen prey to the latter). I believe that the rigid nature of atheism lends itself more to conservative thought than does agnosticism. Agnostic belief is not as rigid as atheism, leading those who cling to it to be more open and accepting of other–often contradicting–beliefs. Sounds pretty liberal to me. Conservative thought and atheism are both heavily based on empiricism, and therefore should never ever be divorced. As for conservatism and libertarianism, again, it really depends on epistemology; some libertarians are idealists (liberal) and some are empiricists (conservative). I place myself in the latter group.

  • Author comment by David Hume · December 16, 2011 at 3:02 am

    minor note: please stay on topic. again, this is an “open thread” to present a vision of conservatism from a non-supernatural perspective. e.g., no jeremiads against libertarianism or libreralism.

  • Acilius · December 16, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Please permit me to make a demurrer.

    If I understand you correctly, you are defining libertarianism as the belief that individual liberty is the highest good a social order can attain. Yet this definition is too broad. It would fit the whole tradition that in some places still is known as “liberalism,” a tradition of which virtually all strands of political thought in the USA are heirs. Right liberals, such as libertarians and most who call themselves “conservative,” believe that the state is the greatest threat to individual liberty, and that the market is its most reliable guarantor. Left liberals believe that the market generates concentrations of wealth which, along with kinship structures and religious groups, threaten individual liberty in ways that only an active state under the guidance of a vigorous democratic process can restrain.

    Both of those views are profoundly different from the first political groups called conservatives, who wanted to ensure that the aristocracy and the monarchy and the established church would remain in power, and the first groups called socialist, who wanted above all to give power to the wage-earning classes. Each of those groups was focused on the question of who would hold power, rather than the question of how that power would be limited so as to allow individuals and out-groups maximum scope for autonomy.

  • John · December 16, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    I’m afraid I disagree with the above. For left-liberals, it’s all about the “who”. Ask liberals why they are a liberal, and they’ll probably reply, “I want to help the poor.” or “I think the government should do more for African Americans” or “I support the little guy”. Ask conservatives why they are conservatives, and they’ll say, “I believe in a strong defense” or “I believe in economic freedom” or “I believe in traditional Christian values.”

    Liberals decide who they like, and make up the rules to benefit them. Conservatives decide what fair rules should be and let the chips fall where they may. When a liberal says, “Don’t you know that policy helps the rich?” My reply is, “I don’t care who it helps or hurts. I think it is a just policy.”

  • Author comment by David Hume · December 17, 2011 at 1:03 am

    stop arguing about what conservatism/libertarianism is. i want to hear *personal* opinions about why someone is a secular conservative.

  • John · December 17, 2011 at 3:06 am

    I’m personally a conservative because I think conservative beliefs are true. I’m not sure what else there is to say.

  • Acilius · December 17, 2011 at 4:52 am

    No disrespect to you, DH, I just don’t see a clear distinction between conservatism and libertarianism in these comments, and I think that some additions to your initial definition might help that situation.

  • Acilius · December 17, 2011 at 4:58 am

    Also, John, what do left-liberals want to help the poor to do, what do they not want to help the rich to do? I suspect it’s the same things that libertarians and other right-liberals are eager to help property owners do and not help government do. They want to help individuals express themselves freely, and don’t want to help powerful forces restrict that expression.

  • TStockmann · December 17, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Although I am not a conservative myself, allow me to propose a taxonomy of nation-statists from observation. The categories are very nonexclusive, and I don’t pretend they’re exhaustive.

    The Divine Right. It’s clear that much of the nonsecular right falls into this, but I’d also say so does some of the secular right. John’s comment above: “I don’t care who it helps or hurts. I think it is a just policy.” falls into this category for me – deontological ethicists who believe some inherent version of Natural Law, particularly of property. For those of us outside this tradition – like legal positivists, social constructivists, existentialists, some utilitarians, and out-and-out genealogy of morals types – it all sounds as Divine Rightish as the religious right, with a filigree of disguised scholasticism.

    The Leviathans. Those who believe that external enemies or the threat of internal chaos requires a very strong national security state. This is inherent to the human condition, not merely as a response to any particular circumstance. This Leviathan response may also be largely independent of a particular evaluation of the controllers of the security state – it’s the centralized power and internal incentives for preservation that create the order.

    The Darwinists. They believe that the rigors and requirements of obtaining power within whatever structure exists generally means the more capable end up directing the state. This category is particularly strong within the ranks of the people who have obtained such power.

    The Cynical Pragmatists. Their conservatism stems directly, coldly and consciously from an analysis that the nation-state supporting the status quo is directly to their benefit. The pure version may be very rare, because the temptation to the rationalizations of Divine Right, the fear of Leviathans, or the self-congratulations of the Darwinists is strong. I’ve never met one, so maybe this is just a theoretical construct. but of course to openly espouse cynical pragmatism is not pragmatic in itself.

    The Sports Fans. The flag at the Olympics. American Exceptionalism. Those who soulfully intone, “Our troops.” Like the folks in the stadiums and widescreen-fronted barcaloungers, they derive a sense of personal accomplishment by identifying with accomplishments in which they share largely not by talents or actually directing an enterprise by coughing up their lives and money. With the United States of America being a very clear concrete (reified) concept – evidenced by the map on their child’s plastic placemat. There’s also a subset that’s class-bound, PBS vs. ESPN – the aesthetes like TS Eliot who respond to the real or burnished glories of the past, the Latin Mass and the nobility of the nobility. Either way – That’s Entertainment!

  • Author comment by Weary Bookworm · December 18, 2011 at 2:03 am

    I’m both secular and conservative, but for me these two issues are independent of each other. Should they be? Is it a failure of thought on my part that they are? I don’t know.

    I grew up religious (Presbyterian) and have never completely gotten over my loss of belief, which I experienced at age 15 about 30 years ago. I’ve read a lot in these areas and find agnostic atheism far more persuasive than any type of religion, no matter how qualified or rationalized. For me this is dispiriting, and it has pushed me in the direction of philosophical pessimism about human life — although I do sometimes feel an intellectual fascination with exploring the possibilities of non-religious thought and aesthetics, along with the stoical virtues of this way of life.

    I was a liberal until my early thirties, but since then have become increasingly conservative. Growing up, the conservatism I knew was mainly of the non-intellectual populist variety and Reagan Republicanism. It really opened my eyes when I started reading some of the best conservative writers past and present. Suddenly, to my surprise, I realized that this was what I thought, too. I’m not a libertarian because humans are to a large degree integrated into the society that formed them and that provides the conditions for their lives; and this society has a history the weight and value of which shouldn’t be underestimated. In common with most American conservatives, I favor ordered liberty as it developed historically. In my personal life I’m pretty much an individualist loner, but I never lose sight of the historical/social matrix. Not only does conservatism seem to me the truest view of human life, but I derive some sense of personal meaning and purpose from it (depth, connectedness, a recognition of my own role and place, etc). Perhaps this is important for me because I can’t be religious. I’m not conservative in all ways, and for various reasons I’m alienated from party politics. Not gonna vote this time or maybe ever again, which I feel slightly guilty about. Is abstention from voting too idealistic and willfully apolitical to be truly conservative?

    A couple of good books for secular conservatives: John Kekes’ A Case for Conservatism and Lincoln Allison’s Right Principles. Kekes’ book doesn’t explicitly discuss secularism, but his arguments for conservatism are entirely secular; and in another of his books (either The Art of Life or The Roots of Evil, I forget which), he argues against the “transcendental temptation.” In addition, and resisting the urge to make a longer list, I’ve been influenced by Derbyshire’s and Scruton’s pessimism and by Heather Mac Donald’s secular social conservatism.

  • Author comment by Weary Bookworm · December 18, 2011 at 8:15 am

    Thinking a little more about this… My notion of conservatism may differ from the norm in that it doesn’t rest on “first principles,” which I don’t see any transcendent basis for. My conservatism arises from and (to the extent it can) rests on shifting sands — the contingencies of nature, history, society, culture. But this conservatism is not ephemeral in the *short term*; despite appearances, the basic contingencies change mainly over long time-spans, much longer than the individual lifespan. It is not necessarily false to talk about principles, forms, etc. — but these arise, and endure, contingently. An unsettled and unsettling vision. Only perdurance of basic conditions over long times can (and, in practice, does) give this vision the feel of traditionalism which is commonly associated with conservatism.

  • Mike H · December 18, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    I’m a conservative because I think life is a struggle and an adventure, the world is chaos, people are both good and bad and everything in-between, capable of the best and the worst but usually just something so and so, there’s triumphs and a lot of failure. I also think man is a highly evolved animal, but an animal nevertheless, we eat, we procreate, we try to survive and we’re driven by instincts half the time.

    So maybe it should come as no surprise that I don’t believe in any grand designs to “solve” this condition. In fact, I believe that man’s various ideas to cure us of all those “bad” things and bring about a place of reason, a place of equality and a place of solidarity leads us toward disaster with some certainty as brutal coercion usually follows the realization that man does not conform to the preconceptions of those ideas. Hence why socialism in all its incarnations as well as religious utopianism holds no appeal to me and I in fact deem them the enemies of all mankind.

    Now a lot of libertarians might go along with that but at the same time I can’t help but feel that they get the wrong idea about human nature as well. We are a social animal which forms hierachies and structures after all and if you got rid of governments, something new that is basically government would be created within a short time.

    I said the world is chaos but man instinctively tries to create order out of chaos. We form families, clans, towns, nations. We create social rules, we codify them, we build institutions to enforce them. We try to escape the “dog-eat-dog” world that we have emerged from. That’s why the authoritarian, the totalitarian temptation always is there in our human nature as well.

    But I believe life is at its best and human organization at its most efficient when these institutions merely function as a framework that allows man to be himself. Man needs to be allowed to do “his thing”, to strive for greatness, to conquer all as well as to fail in his endeavors – but at the same time we need the social rules and codes that keeps man’s animal side restrained to some extent.

    It’s the “small government” conservative state which to me provides the best path here, minimal coercion and restraint in place just to keep nature’s brutality and tyranny at bay, but maximum freedom giving us the opportunity to pursue our ambitions.

  • Rex May · December 19, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    “Conservative” means so damn many things to people, I call myself a “Libertarian Nationalist,” because it at least causes people to ask you to explain what it is, rather than pop you into the wrong pigeonhole. I kind of explain it with this venn diagram:
    http://ex-army.blogspot.com/2011/05/attempt-at-venn-diagram.html

  • Pinkelephant · December 20, 2011 at 12:46 am

    I have been thinking about this recently. My rejection of the supernatural is still rather fresh (in the last 2 years), though my conservatism is much older. I find that I am not tempted to abandon conservatism even without the belief in the divine that at one time informed it, but I have been interested (more out of curiosity than any sort of fundamental crisis) to find the philosophical foundations of my now secular conservatism. Though I must confess my thoughts are still somewhat inchoate and in some cases this is the first time I putting these ideas in writing, I hope you find my minor offerings useful.

    First, as was mentioned by Walentey Lisek, Sowell’s Constrained vision is a good place to start. One need not believe in original sin to observe that absent constraint or incentive otherwise, humans have a strong temptation to be selfish, slothful, savage, and stubborn. Moreover, that is a fundamental and unchangeable aspect of Human nature, and any ordering system of cooperation must recognize, account for, and if possible harness, this nature to improve the station of the others.

    The great advantage of humans is the capacity for reason, communication, and–paradoxically, given what I posited about human nature–empathy. These three advantages are what make the human species superior to other forms of life (even without being given “dominion” by some creator). Because humans as a species are genetically distinct from and superior to other forms of life, each human being by virtue of being a human has value and worth that cannot be arbitrarily infringed upon by other humans.

    We must also recognize that objectively humans do not have equal talents or habits, and this will lead to disparity in condition among humans. This in itself could logically imply that humans with greater talents or more useful habits might be able to claim the right to infringe upon or ignore the value of those with lesser talents or habits. However, given that human nature is such that absent some constraint humans would be inclined to abuse this power (and they have, time and again throughout history), we establish the rule that no human, regardless of his level of development or advantage (which would be difficult to measure in an objective way), has the right to take affirmative acts that ignore or denigrate the value of another human, regardless of his level of development or advantage. While society must recognize the natural distinctions among humans, it may not use those distinctions as an excuse to arbitrarily ignore the value inherent in humanness.

    From the position that human value cannot be arbitrarily ignored by another human, follows a freedom from arbitrary coercion and a system of negative liberty. Arbitrary coercion might include threatening or causing violence or denying him the product of his labor. One might question why this implies only negative and not positive liberties, and again the human nature is the constraint with which we must deal. If we begin to allow for a system of positive liberty, human nature is such that we will be tempted to ever expand “rights” to meet our whims and prejudices, and providing for such positive liberty can lead to violation of the more foundational negative liberties, or to suboptimal or contradictory outcomes from an organizational perspective (for example, if we have the positive right to oranges without having to plant or pay for them, then no one will have any reason to plant orange trees in the first place, and no one will get oranges at all). Indeed humans must, to the greatest extent possible, be free from coercion by others so they have the latitude to succeed or fail based on their own talents and virtues.

    Because individual humans do have different capabilities, advantages, and weaknesses to the temptations of human nature, we must, in order to ensure the noncoercion rule among individuals, give to some institution the right to coerce. Thus we form the state.

    But recognizing also that the state must comprise other humans, who are also subject to the temptations of human nature, we must be very careful in how we organize the state and how we allow that state to wield its monopoly on force. This is where dispositional conservatism in the Burkean tradition proves useful. A distrust of radical change (that could unintentionally give the state powers subject to the abuse of men), a respect for the pragmatic (what, as JB put it, justifies itself by actually working), a reverence for tradition (which often the pragmatic distilled with prudence over generations), and a recognition of the constraints of human nature and the natural world (such as those constraints recognized by classical and neoclassical economics).

    I am sure that there are a number of gaps in the above, for example I talk about arbitrary coercion, but I don’t really deal with non-arbitrary coercion and what constitutes arbitrary. This is obviously not meant to be a systematic treatise on secular conservatism, so I will leave those considerations to others or for another day. Nevertheless, I hope none of my omissions are fatal.

  • Randall Parker · December 20, 2011 at 3:38 am

    Libertarianism strikes me as too Panglossian and utopian. It is like liberalism in this regard. I don’t see how human nature as a product of evolution is compatible with utopian views. We have many cognitive deficiencies. Our subconscious makes lots of mistakes evaluating evidence. Humans are going to embrace false beliefs. Humans are going to deceive themselves and others for their own benefit.

    The concept of original sin comes closer to describing human nature than Various modern isms such as libertarianism or socialism.

    While I support many libertarian policies for the sake of efficiency and my own freedom of choice I do not think pure libertarianism is compatible with human nature. I suspect any highly formal belief system or political theory. As a reductionist I tend to think the political theorists are attacking the problem at too high a level with lots of false assumptions.

  • Randall Parker · December 20, 2011 at 3:41 am

    The appeal of a conservative view is that it is not ambitious. The conservatives don’t try to formulate a theory of humanity and government that solves all problems. Attempts to do so cause more harm than help. We need to lower our sites on what we can achieve and just try to keep conditions from getting too bad.

    In the long run I expect humanity to end up back in the Malthusian Trap unless either humans are wiped out or they become part of a group conscious. The selective pressures for higher fertility seem relentless and I think they will win out in the long run.

  • John W · December 20, 2011 at 6:19 am

    I’m a reformed liberal. Up until my mid 30’s I was a self-identified secular progressive. My views changed markedly, however, after several experiences challenged my beliefs. From these experiences I learned:

    1) That I prioritize human liberty but strongly believe in social order. Order can protect liberty but I’m not sure liberty can always protect social order.

    2) That I value the consequences of choices as much as I value the right to make choices. Liberals always seem to want to disconnect consequence from choice.

    3) That there are time-tested ways of living a good, moral, life. I value self-control, hard work, sacrifice, forgiveness, and believe that certain traits and belief systems promote healthy human behavior and a good society.

    4) I see conservatism as a restraining force, as a force that places value on traditional institutions, and as a force that recognizes and values human effort, human frailties, and human achievement.

    5) I also see conservatism as more aligned with human nature and with our evolution. Humans are territorial, they respond to status, create hierarchies, and have a remarkable ability to exert violence.

    As for the secular distinction, to be honest, I struggle with this. I have been an atheist for many years but part of me recognizes the benefits attached to religion. I think what we need is an “intellectual conservatism” that can stand apart from (and sometimes with) traditional religious conservatism.

  • Author comment by David Hume · December 20, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    don’t worry about comments being inchoate or not perfectly formed. i think that’s one thing that distinguishes non-religious conservatives from religious conservatives, liberals & libertarians (or should).

  • Abelard Lindsey · December 25, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    That libertarianism is incompatible with being a social being is farcical. I know plenty of libertarians who have perfectly satisfactory and fulfilling social lives.

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